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Bourbon Closes 2nd Century With Battle Against Declining Consumption With AM-Drunken

December 30, 1989

Bourbon Closes 2nd Century With Battle Against Declining Consumption With AM-Drunken Driving, Bjt

DALLAS (AP) _ The revelry of the New Year’s weekend marks the end of bourbon’s 200th full year, but the only truly American liquor faces declining consumption as drinkers turn to sipping cordials and gulping vodka.

Outside the United States, especially in Japan, ″bourbon is accepted as a very sophisticated, very American, very high price, very quality spirit,″ said Barry Berish, president of Jim Beam Brands Co., which makes the best- selling U.S. bourbon.

But that’s at odds with bourbon’s image back home, where it’s considered an everyday kind of liquor, summoning images of two-fisted drinkers throwing back shots or patrician Southerners sipping bourbon in the form of mint juleps.

Bourbon has only half the share of the U.S. distilled spirits market it had 20 years ago, falling from 20.7 percent in 1970 to about 10 percent in 1988, the last year for which numbers were available.

After hitting a high of 25.5 million cases in 1973, U.S. bourbon consumption has fallen to 15.3 million cases in 1988, according to Jobson’s Liquor Handbook, an industry guide.

″Basically, it’s the white goods - the vodkas, gins, tequilas, rums and cordials″ that are gaining, said Jobson’s Editor Nicholas Furlotte. Vodka’s now the most popular stiff drink in America, with 30.2 million cases sold in 1988.

Bourbon is generally considered to be the legacy of a pioneer Baptist minister living in the wilds of what was then Bourbon County, Va., a region that’s now part of Kentucky.

Sometime in 1789 - probably September, according to the Dallas-based Bourbon Information Bureau - the Rev. Elijah Craig mixed spring water, corn, rye, barley malt and who knows what else to concoct bourbon.

Within 21 years, the region had 2,000 stills and bourbon had even become an unofficial currency.

Today, Kentucky is home to 14 bourbon distilleries and produces 80 percent of the world’s bourbon supply.

The liquor Craig devised was clear, not the amber bourbon we know today. The dark color, according to even less provable lore, has to do with a barrel maker’s mistake.

″According to legend, a 19th century barrel maker was steaming and bending barrel staves over an open fire,″ the Bourbon Information Bureau says. ″He didn’t watch the staves carefully enough and they soon began to char. Being a frugal fellow, he went ahead and used them anyway, not bothering to tell the distiller.

″However, the distiller who used the barrel found that his whiskey had improved in flavor and picked up a rich color. Needless to say, he insisted that all of his barrels in the future have charred staves.″

And now, according to a federal law passed in 1964, a liquor can be called bourbon only if it contains more than 51 percent corn in the mash, and is aged in ″new charred oak containers″ for at least two years. Some bourbons, however, contain more corn and are aged longer.

Bourbon apparently is most popular in Washington, D.C., which leads the per capita rankings for bourbon consumption. Washingtonians drink 161.3 cases per thousand people - more than 2 1/2 times the national average of 62.2 cases.

Kentucky is second at 139.5 cases per thousand residents.

While consumption of bourbon and other distilled spirits has been declining, Jobson’s says the fall seems to have slowed.

The Bourbon Information Bureau, a promotional office funded by the Schenley American Whiskey Group, says ″a shakeout is taking place among marginal and less-profitable brands,″ leaving the market open for the biggest bourbon producers.

Jim Beam’s Berish agrees, saying his brands’ market share and volume are increasing in the United States, where the company is using a ″back-to-basi cs″ advertising campaign to capitalize on bourbon’s history and tradition.

In addition, ″We see a marvelous potential to sell and promote what is the American spirit throughout the world,″ Berish said.

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